The Discovery

The search for hydrothermal vents at the seafloor mobilized scientists, engineers, crews, ships, and equipment from many institutions worldwide. Intrigued by early clues, they followed a trail of discovery that led to a scientific revolution. With persistence and ingenuity, they overcame formidable barriers to accomplish a technical and scientific feat.

In the Discovery section, learn about what led scientists to this remarkable discovery, the discovery itself, and the amazing new knowledge gained about life on planet Earth.

Seafloor Spreading

Some 20 to 25 million years ago, two of Earth’s great tectonic plates were spreading apart beneath the eastern Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Plate spread westward and the Farallon Plate spread eastward.

But about 20 million years ago, the Farallon Plate began to tear near the present location of the Galápagos Islands. The small tear grew larger. It split the Farallon Plate into two separate plates—the Nazca Plate to the north and the Cocos Plate to the south. In the opening created by the tear, magma rose to create the Galápagos Spreading Center. The Galápagos Spreading Center steadily added new ocean crust to the Cocos and Nazca Plates as the tear continued to rip westward toward the Pacific Plate.


Watch videos of the scientists and engineers who first discovered hydrothermal vents, and what was learned from this spectular discovery.

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